How Private Practice Behavioral Health Clinics Can Benefit From Automation

How Private Practice Behavioral Health Clinics Can Benefit From Automation

Emerging technology has undoubtedly shaped our lives in many ways over the last few decades. Today we live in a tech-centric, hyperconnected world where almost anything is available with a few clicks. But in many ways, it's hard to see the gravity of this shift while you're living in it. 

Sure, technology has continuously improved over time. But while the last few centuries saw a steady improvement, the last few decades have been something else entirely. Consider the difference between buying a music record in 1960 vs. 1990 - sure, the disks looked a little different, but the process was largely the same. In 1960 you might pay $2.98 for a vinyl record with one song. And in 1990, you paid $13 for a CD with multiple songs. But now? Today you can access the entire global music catalog for $10 a month. 

So, what's this got to do with behavioral health? The point is, technological advancement isn't always linear - it doesn't always come in waves; sometimes, it comes as a tsunami. Automation is a modern-day tsunami. It's the technological innovation that's driving lightning-fast improvements across industries, and private health practice is no exception. 

However, many behavioral health clinics today aren't yet harnessing the true potential of automation. This can be for many reasons. Perhaps they're cautious of the risks and rewards of automation. Maybe they need a clearer understanding of how bots fit into their care landscape. Or maybe it's something else entirely.

Whatever the reason, this outlook needs to change if behavioral health clinics want to offer effective care today and in the future. With this in mind, let's examine how automation can disrupt the behavioral health sector. 

What to Automate?

Healthcare organizations are typically full of processes that are prime candidates for automation. So, with so many automateble processes, where do you start? There are many different approaches here. 

For example, you might consider automating tasks in which the effort required to complete them is greater than the benefit they provide. This can be an excellent place to start because of the time-sensitive nature of many healthcare processes. As a result, you get all the benefits of completing the task without the heavy labor burden. 

Other organizations choose to automate smaller but high-impact tasks. And others opt for automating processes that are so time-consuming that they are rarely done but provide benefits to the organization when they are. 

It's also important to note that automation is just as impactful for small behavioral health organizations as for large ones. Small and medium-sized private practices can see huge benefits from bots. And crucially, bots and smart bots are now more affordable than ever. 

Now, let's dive into some of the top use cases for automation in behavioral health. 

Automate Billing and Payments

Invoicing and payments can be a time-consuming process, especially if you have multiple clients to keep track of. By automating billing and payments, you can free up a significant amount of time you would otherwise spend on administrative tasks. 

The fact is manual invoice processing is time-intensive, unclear, and hard to control. It's also prone to errors. And minor errors in invoices can lead to frustrated clients and costly delays. At the same time, accounts payable departments have to handle high transaction volumes, multiple touch points, and complicated approval processes. This work is necessary, of course. But with automation, you can dramatically reduce the billing and paying cycle time, ensuring the business gets paid faster. 

Not all automated billing systems are the same. For example, some clinics opt for straightforward (but powerful) robotic process automation (RPA) solutions that integrate fully with their existing systems. Others opt for dedicated billing system applications. Either way, automated billing systems enable you to automate routine but often fairly complex billing functions. These functions include invoicing, payment collection, provisioning, approvals, and event triggers. 

Not only are automated billing solutions a colossal time-saver, especially if you have a large client base, but they also offer other benefits. For example, they allow you to collect payment information once and automate all future payments. In addition, they facilitate a reliable cash flow by enabling you to achieve predictable revenue by automatically collecting payments from customers when the payment is due. Automated systems can also track late payments and send reminders to clients. 

Automate Scheduling

As any healthcare professional will know, client engagement is vital to successful treatment. When clients feel more engaged in the process, they experience stronger feelings of autonomy, which can positively impact their mental well-being. Automated scheduling bots can help achieve these goals while delivering other benefits. 

Let's consider an automated appointment booking bot. These bots integrate with therapists' calendars to automatically display available appointment slots to clients. Then, the client can interact with the bot in their own time to book a slot that works for them. Instead of being an arduous process, appointment booking becomes straightforward and easy. Therapists retain complete control over the available times, services, and locations and can accept or deny appointment requests if anything changes. 

Practitioners can also customize automation solutions to fit their needs. For example, they can adjust the length of different services, allow repeating appointments, set aside appointment blocks for specific appointments, and more. 

At the same time, clients can manage their own treatment schedules without external pressures. They can rearrange or cancel appointments with ease. And the smart bot will send notifications to all parties involved to ensure everyone is on the same page. 

Scheduling bots also help reduce no-shows by sending automated reminders via text, email, or even voice notes. 

Manually handling appointments is time-consuming and also completely unnecessary with the powerful smart bots available on the market. When you let a bot handle all the dull scheduling admin, you free up time and energy for more important tasks. As a result, patients, therapists, and other healthcare staff experience better overall experiences. And crucially, clients experience better health outcomes.  

Automate Your Marketing

Businesses face numerous challenges when it comes to digital marketing, and businesses in the behavioral health sector are no exception. In simple words, marketing automation is the practice of using software to manage repetitive marketing tasks. 

These tasks can include collecting customer data based on their activities on your website, sending weekly or monthly newsletters, sending reminders of services the customer has shown interest in, sending SMS messages with offers and discounts, and scheduling content and posting it to communication channels like social media sites. 

Marketing automation is a complex behemoth. There are so many tools on the market that you can quickly become overwhelmed in your search. However, just because marketing automation can be complex, it doesn't mean it has to be. 

Instead of tackling everything at once, you can start with the most critical or time-consuming actions first. For example, you can start with the emails you find yourself sending all the time or the emails that nurture prospective clients and bring in more money for the business. 

It's also a good idea to leverage marketing automation to nurture your existing client relationships. For example, you can set up automated emails to celebrate milestones in your client's journey, like their 10th therapy session, a sobriety milestone, or even a simple birthday. 

Marketing automation systems can automatically respond to client-triggered events. For example, the bot can automatically send a response email confirming you have received their message and when they can expect a reply. It can also send helpful knowledge-based articles in response to key questions. 

Here's the bottom line. For therapists, managing a private practice is stressful. The last thing you want is to leave a client waiting several days for a response, but busy schedules don't always allow for prompt communication. When it comes down to it, nobody becomes a therapist to spend time going back and forth via text and email. Therapists' time is valuable and already stretched too thin. But by enlisting the help of bots, you can make the most of your time while increasing your response rate. 

Marketing always involves a human element, and behavioral health services are inherently human in nature. By leveraging automation, you can foster and strengthen that human connection without drowning in administrative tasks. You get your time back so you can focus on what you're best at. 

Integrate Telehealth

The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a rapid increase in telehealth services for both mental and physical health concerns. For example, in 2015, 22.2% of mental health treatment facilities provided telemedicine services. By 2020, this figure stood at an eye-watering 68.7%. This rise in telemedicine was as dramatic as it was swift. Now several years after the pandemic, telehealth continues to remain an integral part of many clinics' care delivery strategies. 

In a world where it's not always possible to meet in person, telehealth offers a way to still deliver effective patient care. There could be several reasons why an in-person meeting isn't feasible. For example, the client might be living in a different location, transport links may be down, the client might be on vacation, or their schedule may be too busy to accommodate the commute times in addition to the appointment. 

Whatever the reason, being flexible and willing to work with clients in different ways can ensure you provide the best care possible. Telehealth for behavioral health offers numerous benefits, including more immediate access to help, a better quality of care (it allows rural clients to engage in services without friction), mitigation of counselor shortages, and offers a more comfortable setting if the client is particularly anxious. 

Telehealth automation involves several fundamental technologies. For example, these systems typically include video conferencing, SMS and email functions, and chatbots. In behavioral health, telehealth technologies like video conferencing and patient portals help patients get the care they need when they need it. It can also be especially critical for clients suffering from substance misuse disorders since treatment in this area typically requires frequent check-ins and communication via several channels. Telehealth tools help people struggling with addiction by offering more access to their coach or therapist. 

Integrate Chatbots

Chatbot technology has come a long way over the last decade. Artificial intelligence, Natural Language Processing, and Machine Learning have transformed clunky (and pretty stupid) bots into highly effective, intelligent conversational agents. Today, chatbots are empowering patients, insurance companies, and healthcare providers to connect easily with one another. 

But what do healthcare chatbots do? Lots of things. Across the healthcare industry, AI chatbots can:

  • Answer health and payment-related questions. 
  • Share critical information about a variety of health issues. 
  • Make health-related product recommendations. 
  • Examine symptoms and arrange clinician referrals. 
  • Handle patient onboarding. 
  • Respond to user inquiries. 
  • Schedule patient appointments. 

But what about chatbots for mental health specifically? There's been a lot of buzz in the last few years around therapy chatbots. This was largely born out of the pandemic when many people's mental health took a dive, but access to traditional mental health treatments was either logistically unfeasible or too expensive. 

Therapy bots vary in scope. Some bots simply ask clients questions to determine the best treatment before referring them to a skilled therapist or treatment program. However, some bots provide more comprehensive therapy. And interestingly, a new study into the effectiveness of one chatbot-based mental health platform, Woebot, found these conversational agents can form similar bonds with users as real-life therapists, provided the bot acknowledges it's not human. 

Therapy-based chatbots are still experimental, and it'll likely be some years before we know how effective they are in providing mental health treatment. Equally, it's essential to recognize these bots aren't necessarily a replacement for human therapists but often just a way to supplement treatment between sessions. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) bots can leverage CBT learned-responses to help keep patients on the right track. 

As a supplement to traditional therapy, we may see therapy chatbots become a common feature of behavioral health clinics over the next decade. While in their infancy, these bots can benefit both clients and clinics. For example, these bots are considered most effective when clients already have a good idea of the issue they're struggling with. This means clients can get the help they need when they need it, even if their therapist isn't available. It also means chatbots can help route the client to the right therapist - the practitioner with the required skill set to help with their needs. 

Chatbots can also feel more approachable than interacting with human beings in some cases. This is because bots allow people more control over the conversation. Clients can converse when they want to and cease conversing when they want to. However, this can also be the chatbot's downfall because increased control can make shifting mindsets more difficult. 

For clinics, chatbots offer a way to provide ongoing treatment amid therapist shortages and rising living costs. 

The Benefits of Automation in Behavioral Private Practice

Automation continues to reinvent and reimagine healthcare across health sub-sectors. Here's a closer look at the direct benefits of automation in behavioral health. 

Lower Costs

Automated solutions help drive down costs in multiple ways. For example, let's consider errors. The reality is, human beings make mistakes. Maybe they're tired, distracted, demotivated, or overwhelmed. However, these errors can be costly in healthcare. For example, simple invoicing errors could translate to missed revenue, liability, additional time (labor), the cost to resolve, and so on. Automation eliminates human error by extracting information precisely as it is presented. 

Bots can also complete administrative tasks faster than humans and work around the clock. This cuts costs by reducing the need for overtime. 

Saving Time

Therapists are busy people. Not to mention, providing effective care can also take an emotional toll on therapists - they're only human. With the many challenges therapists already face in the modern world, adding needless admin on top of that only makes the job harder. Many therapists feel they don't have the time or bandwidth to help all of their clients as much as they would like. And sadly, this can impact their job satisfaction. 

However, bots combat this issue by handling all of the mundane, repetitive tasks and freeing up therapists' time to focus on what really matters, their clients. 

Improving Efficiency

Automation empowers therapists by relieving them of time-consuming, manual, front-office tasks. For example, by automating appointment confirmations and reminders, therapists save many hours of manual outreach while ensuring the operation runs smoothly and efficiently. Automation is also highly scalable. As a private practice's client volume grows, the administrative burden also grows. But with automation, you don't need to hire more staff to respond to this admin spike. 

Final Thoughts

Automation reduces time, effort, and cost while reducing manual errors. This allows behavioral health organizations to boost productivity, availability, and reliability, and reduce operating costs. And achieving these goals is essential in today's increasingly precarious economic climate where people have less expendable income, but the need for behavioral health services continues to skyrocket.

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Published On:

April 25, 2024

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